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Semler v. Psychiatric Institute of Washington, D.C., 538 F.2d 121 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, sub nom. Folliard v. Semler, 97 S. Ct. 83 (1976).

Recently, much attention has been given to the indemnification of crime victims. It is traditional to seek such indemnification through civil suits from the person or persons responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. In Semler v. Psychiatric Institute of Washington, D.C., the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that the mental hospital, the psychiatrist, and the probation officer in charge of John Steven Gilreath were civilly liable for the death of Natalia Semler, by failing to retain custody over Gilreath until he was released by court order from the psychiatric institute to which he was confined. The court held that the order created a duty to the public, which the defendants breached. The court, however, did not hold that a violation of the order was itself conclusive proof of negligence; rather, it held that proximate cause must be related to a violation through reasonable foreseeability of harm. In addition, the probation officer was found liable for breach of a ministerial duty, and therefore no foreseeability was required, according to the court. As a result, of these holdings several serious inconsistencies are apparent, and the decision will have important and adverse ramifications for the rights of defendants in future crime victim compensation cases.

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